The End of the End of History

The world, they say, has changed. Well, yes and no. We are, to be sure, at war. It’s a strange war, but it looks to be an important one, a major turning point. Best to assume that it will be, for war is always dangerous to underestimate.

Shifts that looked to be forever out of reach are already old news. The US, for one thing, has paid its UN dues, and President Bush, in his speech to the United Nations, actually referred to Kofi Anon as “our president,” just as he spoke the word “Palestine.”

That, to be sure, was something new. Continue reading “The End of the End of History”

Peter Barnes’ “Who Owns the Sky?”

Capitalism 2.0

Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism, by Peter Barnes (Washington: Island Press, 2001).

Who Owns the Sky is an important book at a bitter moment. Its important because it tries to make a realistic proposal for a fair way of managing the USs transition away from carbon-based fuels, and because, in many ways, it seems to actually succeed. It certainly highlights some of the crucial questions, and it just may do a whole lot more. In normal times, it might automatically command a bit of attention Continue reading “Peter Barnes’ “Who Owns the Sky?””

The Pew Climate Equity Conference

First of all, full disclosure: when we arrived at Equity and Global Climate Change , we did not do so with entirely open minds. We were skeptical, frankly, that the fairness issue would get a fair treatment at Pews hands.

Why Well, largely from our reading of Pew’s 1998 report The Complex Elements of Global Fairness , an odd bit of work in which the problem of the rich worlds overwhelming per capita emissions is brought up, held briefly against the light, and then swaddledgently, but rather too tightlyin a strange and suffocating complexity.

As it happens, our skepticism was disappointed, though not entirely misplaced. First, though, place yourself at the Mayflower Hotel, a vaguely Rococo affair on Washingtons Connecticut Avenue. It was a fine spring day, there were plenty of carbos and coffee, and when Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Climate Center (and a former climate negotiator in the Clinton Administration), rose to introduce the proceedings, her words seemed quite unexceptionable. She told us, for example, that an effective international response to climate change must not only be environmentally sound and cost-effective, but equitable as well: fair to all nations, rich and poor. She quoted Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the climate change secretariat, to the effect that the 1992 Rio convention defined the project of controlling climate change as a burden to be shared, and that this sharing would have to be one in which, under the rubric of common but differentiated responsibilities, the rich countries take the lead. Familiar words, these, and we didnt have to come to Washington to hear them. Still, in the time of G.W. Bush, they were a relief. Continue reading “The Pew Climate Equity Conference”

Raise a Glass to Kyoto

The climate showdown, as everyone knows, is coming soon. The Europeans are doing their best to ratify Kyoto, but the Japanese-essential to any ratification coalition that lacks the US-are waffling, and the US (contrary to the promises it made last month in Sweden) is maneuvering to get its way. If it does, the setback will be strategically serious and politically demoralizing, so much so that few climate activists, today, are willing to even admit the possibility of failure. Doing so, after all, could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At some point, however, we have to take stock. That point would have come after last November’s COP6 in The Hague, but then COP6 deadlocked, and we learned that it would be continued in Bonn this summer. The Supreme Court soon thereafter appointed G.W. Bush as the US president, and ever since then the ball has been relentlessly in play. Now, of course, all eyes are turning to Bonn, where the second shoe is about to drop, and already the futurists among us are looking forward to COP7 in Morocco, and to Rio+10 in Johannesburg. After all, the great thing about the Kyoto Protocol, like the UNFCCC before it, is that it’s a moving target. If we lose the next round, there’ll be another, and another. Failure, as they say, is not an option. Continue reading “Raise a Glass to Kyoto”

Europe at the Crossroads

It’s hard for Americans, even progressive Americans, to imagine a future in which the U.S. is no longer the “indispensable country.” This is as true when it comes to climate politics as it is in any other area, and for much the same reason-the U.S. looms so large that it simply cannot be ignored. We emit, in particular, such a high share of world’s carbon that, in the end, any climate regime to which we do not immediately subscribe is doomed to failure.

Or so, at least, it seems. And it’s because it does that the history of the climate talks is a history of attempts to placate the U.S. Which is, again, a big part of the reason why the Kyoto negotiations-and the Kyoto Protocol itself-are in such a sorry state. The fact of the matter is that, barring sudden deliverance by a new energy revolution on a computer-boom scale, the U.S. as we know it today will refuse and resist any climate treaty even remotely appropriate to the threat. The fossil-fuel lobby is just too powerful here to expect anything else. Which is why, perversely and quite inadvertently, the Bush administration may have just done the world a colossal favor. Continue reading “Europe at the Crossroads”

Lies and Economic Models

Amory Lovins and other green techno-optimists have long argued that there are numerous technologies and policies that could reduce energy use and emissions at a net profitthe so-called no regrets policies that would save more money than they cost to implement. Conservative economists, many of them employed or supported by the Department of Energy, have argued that this simply cant be true, since energy marketslike all marketsare optimal. (This is the famous twenty dollar bill argument; i.e., there cant be twenty-dollar bills lying on the ground, because people would have already picked them up).

Many economists, of course, see the bills everywhere. 2500 economists including eight Nobel laureates signed the Economists Statement on Climate Change in 1997, which declares Economic studies have found that there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs. Continue reading “Lies and Economic Models”

The EcoEquity Interview: Wolfgang Sachs

Wolfgang Sachs is a senior research fellow at the Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment and Energy. He has long been active in the German and Italian green movements and is currently Chair of the Board of Greenpeace in Germany. He is the author of For Love of the Automobile: Looking Back into the History of Our Desires, the editor of the immensely influential Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power, and the co-author of Greening the North: A Post-Industrial Blueprint for Ecology and Equity, which goes beyond critique to envisage concrete alternatives and feasible processes for social transition. More recently still, he is the author of Planet Dialectics: Explorations in Environment and Development and, in the role that occasioned this interview, a co-author of the lead chapter of the Third Assessment Reports Working Group 3 report. Working Group 3, of course, focuses on mitigation, and its first chapter contains the TARs most explicit discussion of equity.

>This is a long interview, but it barely scratches the surface of the issues. Continue reading “The EcoEquity Interview: Wolfgang Sachs”

4P or not 4P

When the administration of Bush II decided that it wasn’t going to regulate CO2 emissions in the electric utility sector, it also postponed an important debate over the form those regulations will ultimately take, a debate with key implications for climate equity. The “4P” (four pollutant) legislation that Bush preemptively vetoed would have required rules to allocate a fixed carbon emission cap among utilities. A significant controversy had already emerged among environmental organizations over how this might be done, and this debate should not be forgotten. Continue reading “4P or not 4P”

HELLO WORLD! Climate Equity Observer: Issue number 1

This is the first issue of Climate Equity Observer.

Its purpose, since you asked, is to put a single idea onto the agenda. To wit: if we hope to make a soft landing in a tolerable future climate, we’re going to have to shift from the initial Kyoto framework to a new “equity framework” based on equal per capita rights to the atmosphere. This idea is already on the table in most of the rest of the world. We want to put it on the agenda in the United States. Continue reading “HELLO WORLD! Climate Equity Observer: Issue number 1”